1635: A Parcel of Rogues – Snippet 08

Chapter 5

“It comes to something that a man may easier read shite than take one,” Robert Mackay muttered. Getting from the commode back to the bed was no joke, but when a man broke his back, that was what he’d to put up with. There was probably a bloody theologian somewhere blethering something about God’s plan out his arse, and be damned to the prating pederast. All the pain and indignity of being helped to the pot, all the indignity and pain of being helped back, and then the fucking paperwork was still waiting.

“Will ye haud ye’re noise, ye auld fool? If you’d bided on that bluidy mare ye’d no be led theer greetin’ yer wame in ma lugs, forbye. And will ye bide readin’ an’ no mither me? F’puir auld Meg? So’s I can clean, here?”

Mackay sighed. She’d a sharp tongue on her, but she spoke sense. Of the nurses he’d hired to mind him while he was waiting to be measured for his last overcoat, this one was the only one who’d not gotten on his nerves beyond all enduring. Largely by trying her damnedest to get on his nerves, as far as he could tell, which made a change from irritating servility or slovenly dullard idleness. And she’d a half-sister who was a grand nurse for the wee boy, and a fair portion of her family had served here in the Edinburgh house over the years. Her closest relative was one of the hostlers down in the mews, if Mackay recalled aright. Of course, it’d been years since he’d been anywhere near the stables. A carriage for long trips, a litter for short ones. And so much arse and elbow he tried to avoid it if he could.

Which meant he was sat here, a fowl on the water for crap like his chief had sent him. Clan loyalties cut through Scots politics like fault lines, which was to say they only really mattered during quakes. Or if you were mining for something, which Reay definitely was. Oh, he could dress it up all he pleased, but he was after something that Charles Stuart would not like. Of course, what Charles Stuart did not like and what he could do anything about were two different things. The man hadn’t called a parliament in years. Mackay couldn’t recall precisely how long, but it couldn’t be much less than ten years. Without taxes and levies, the House of Stuart was governing from its prerogatives. For a certainty, something had come in from the deal with the French, but how much of that remained in the Stuart’s coffers was a vexed question. Not much, if the reports on his spending on all those mercenaries were right. And there was replacing the navy ships the French had gotten shot to pieces. That had to cost right enough, and a necessity since Stuart seemed dead set on offending the United States of Europe.

“Something’s no’ so much shite, I reckon.”

“Aye? And what’d ye ken, fishwifie?”

“Och, fishwifie, is it, y’aud de’il? I ken ye’re grinnin’ like ye’ve been thievin’ frae bairns.”

“Aye, just that that idiot Stuart –”

“Papist — “Meg put in, as though she didn’t even notice she was doing it.

“– who may have some papist sympathies or at least be willing to tolerate them — is fire and flame for making himself a nuisance to the USE — ”


“Aye? And wha’ wad oor wee fishwifie ken?”

“They have a cardinal. Papists ha’ cardinals. This is aye weel known.”

Mackay looked at her. He could tell when she was quoting the blithering idiot of a preacher at her dementedly independent kirk, because she lost her own accent and used his. And the blithering eejit claimed to be a good Scots presbyterian, like he knew any more of scripture than a hungry dog that’d ate a testament. “I’ll remind ye, Meg, that yon bampot ye set store by disnae ken good sense fra’ a pint o’ pish on the subject o’ European politics or any religion he cannae get fra’ the bottom o’ a bottle.”

“Och, you tak’ that back, ye auld thief! The reverend is a pious man –”

Haud yer tongue!” Mackay bellowed. He’d had to learn to put up with a lot since he’d broken his back, compensations like the grandson his bastard son had presented him with notwithstanding. But he wasn’t listening to some rabble of a half-educated excuse for a minister described as a pious man when the nearest he got to piety was sobering up on Sundays, the better to rant a meagre collection-plate out of an ignorant congregation of waiting-women and idlers. After hearing one too many quotes from the man, Mackay had made inquiries. The man was technically no more than a deacon putting on airs as a curate, for all he insisted he was a lecturer after the Puritan style. Even the rest of the congregationalist mutton-heads in the kirk he preached at knew better than to let him make himself out an elder. He was permitted to preach before the main services to a mostly-empty room. Mackay had been amused to discover that there were waiting-women there anyway, there being idiots willing to pay a penny to show that they were pious enough to make sure of their place at worship and rich enough to pay for it done. Which was how the place was on Meg’s regular Sunday-morning round of services, finishing up at St. Giles’s for a Leith warehouse-owner who never turned up anyway. Apparently he thought paying Meg to sit in for him on her creepie-stool and listen to the Word on his behalf would be enough to get him in to heaven. Whatever, the idiot at the independent kirk could spout all the shite he liked but Mackay wasn’t going to listen to it quietly.

He glared at Meg, who’d adopted the dropped-jaw, shocked stare of the rarely-contradicted. “The USE is not papist. It’s not Calvinist. It’s not Lutheran, for a’ that Gustavus Adolphus is a Lutheran and a pious one from what I hear. And there’s nothing so much wrong with Lutherans, not at all. The worst ye can say is they’re wrong in the matter of religion. And they’re folk for a’ that, ye daft hen. As for the papists, aye, they’ve a cardinal for the USE. Because there’s papists in the USE. And they’re let be as they should be, to be wrong in their ain way. Or would ye seek tae save ’em against their will? Do mair than witness? Get yersel’ tae heaven through good works, will ye? Like these blethering meddlers in the kirk that want tae rule as well as minister?”

He kept up his glare. Meg sat down heavily on a chair. Mackay was secretly gratified. He’d had a stare that could quell the unruliest private soldier in his day, and it was pleasing to see that being crippled hadn’t taken the edge off it.

“Didnae think o’ that, did ye? No? Now take yon pot o’ shite oot o’ here, and mind it’ll do ye more good than anything ye hear from a whole regiment o’ divines if ye don’t mind the truth o’ religion, which is to save yer ain soul, no’ rule the world. Out!”

Meg left in a hurry. Mackay sighed. He’d either got her to shut up with the constant refrain of no popery that was the only bit of her goading he didn’t find refreshing, or he’d lost the first nurse he’d been able to stand at any price.

Still, yelling at her had given him a few thoughts to reply to Reay with. His chief had been careful to couch his letter in terms praising the merits of the freedom of religion the USE was now practising, and how harmful enforcement of cuius regio, eius religio had proven in the Germanies. It was surely, purely a coincidence that the packet had included some information on the course of the wars of religion from future scholars, and that the pages concerning the Bishops’ Wars were right at the front.